Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy hump day! Today, I have a difficult three-star review to share. I often think these are the hardest to write, because the book had good points and those that came up short. Half of this story held me mesmerized. The other half… not so much. See what you think.

BOOK BLURB:

From the Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Luminous Dead comes a gothic fantasy horror–The Death of Jane Lawrence.

“Intense and amazing! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak.” —BookRiot

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. 

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

“Don’t read this one alone at night; Caitlin Starling has done it again. Unsettling, atmospheric, and downright brutal at times, The Death of Jane Lawrence will continue to haunt you long after you leave Lindridge Hall…if the house lets you leave, that is.” —Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my ARC.

I loved the first quarter of this book. Jane is an intelligent, sensible woman who proposes a marriage of convenience to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. Although he declines at first, the two soon come to a business arrangement of how the marriage will be conducted. He has certain ground rules involving his family estate, Lindridge Hall, and Jane agrees to his terms.

What starts out as a beautifully Gothic and atmospheric read morphs into a convoluted plot of dark spirits, superstition, and ritual magic.

All of those would normally result in a stellar read for me, but the execution and underlying threads fizzled. On the plus side, the characters of Jane and Augustine are well developed and the awkwardness of their relationship, especially at the beginning, held me enthralled.

Secrets abound, especially as related to Lindridge Hall, a locked cellar door, rituals, and Augustine’s past. The writing is descriptive and dense, beautiful language that needs to be savored. After Jane is introduced to Augustine’s colleagues, who form a magical cult, the plot gets messy.

There are moments of surgical gore, plenty of metaphysical posturing, and a chapter near the end that borders on the abstract. The final conclusion was fantastic, but the path to reach that point was muddled and overly long. I’m sure many readers will enjoy this book for its dark imagery, odd alternate reality, and Gothic feel. This is one that comes down to a matter of preference.